As Merriweather’s knowledge of art deepened, she started to notice a trend. Several class trips to museums revealed a marked lack of pieces that humanized Black people. It made her want to create art that is more true to the Black American experience. “That’s what my work is about, a celebration of our culture in different parts of [the United States],” she shares. But it wasn’t until college that Merriweather started producing the sculptures she’s known for. In 2014, she started at the Maryland Institute of Art where she majored in ceramics with a concentration in film and video. Her studies allowed her to dive deeper into her artistry and focus on portrait sculptures. The very first and one of her most notable pieces, known as S E E M E, was a class project she did in 2016.
S E E M E
S E E M E depicts a Black man with a crop of short locs. His fingers pull at either side of his mouth to expose the grill on his bottom teeth and a single gold tooth on top. Merriweather wanted to highlight teeth jewelry, popular in many Black communities across the United States and other parts of the world. As with many aesthetic choices born in Black communities, they’re often seen as de classé at first — that is, until someone non-Black decides to adopt the trend. “If somebody else wears [grills], it’s like, ‘Oh this is fashion,'” Merriweather says. The piece aims to subvert the negative connotations associated with grills: “I [sculpted his hands this way] because I feel like it’s a common pose that Black people do to proudly show off our grills,” she explains. “I wanted him to fit the stereotype of a ‘scary’ Black man. He’s pulling his teeth apart [because] I want you to focus on what’s on his insides, rather judge him for his outside.” S E E M E would up being the first piece in Merriweather’s beloved Grillz Collection, which launched in 2016.
Merriweather is intentional about how she makes each piece, from the actual sculpting to the naming process. Each bust is given a name that is written in all caps with a space between each letter. “I want people to actually sit with the name, take time with it, understand it, and respect it,” she shares. Merriweather’s pieces were made to take up space — they are normally anywhere from 20 to 24 inches high, though the smallest ones can be eight to 12 inches and the larger ones are around 40 inches tall. She typically produces her work in bunches of three to five at a time, so it can take a month or two to complete if she’s going quickly. Merriweather needs about a week to sculpt before she fires the piece (which can take a few days) to preserve its form.